top

The Suburbans
(1999)

Director: Donal Lardner Ward          
Cast:
Craig Bierko, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Love Hewitt


The movie that thing you do! charted the rise and inevitable break-up of a one-hit wonder rock 'n roll band. (Reportedly - I can't stand Tom Hanks.) We've seen this kind of thing many times, not just in movies, but in real life. However, when it comes to what happens to the members of a band once it breaks up, you seldom get to see this in a fictional format, or in any kind of non-fictional report for that matter. That's probably because people would rather see success and power than anyone who's a failure or a has-been. Still, I am sure most of us have at one time or another wondered what ever happened to musical figures who were once at the top of the The Stillers didn't need glasses to see they were in a real stinkerworld. What do musicians who were once famous do when they are suddenly shoved outside of their particular career field, especially considering most musicians aren't greatly talented? Well, if one was lucky to have a very talented partner that did pretty much all the work, they could retire from the business comfortably like Andrew Ridgely. Though most musicians aren't as lucky. Are the members of Autograph now collecting them instead of giving them out, and turning up their radios in their flea-bag hotel rooms? Are the surviving members of The Waitresses now... well, I guess that shot would be a bit too easy. Personally, I would like to know what happened to the members of Deadeye Dick, so I would then be able to find and clobber them for coming up with one of the most annoying songs in years.

However, The Suburbans is not about that, but does more or less cover the theme I presented in the previous paragraph: The fates of the members of a rock 'n roll band (The Suburbans) that had one shining moment before almost instantly afterwards fading into obscurity. The movie starts in 1981 with the band appearing on American Bandstand to play their number one hit "By My Side", though first laughing off the idea of music videos (Ha ha, ironic, huh?) The movie at that point fast-forwards to the present day before we get to hear the song or further appreciate the amazing makeup job on Dick Clark. A big surprise we learn is that they all still live in the same city, though I think a bigger one is - oh, you guessed the are all long split up as a band, and are all feeling unhappy and consider themselves losers. Lead guitarist Mitch (Bierko, The Thirteenth Floor) is a podiatrist who won't let go of the dream that success is around the corner, and bass player Gil (Ferrell, Elf and Old School) feels discontent despite marrying into a wealthy family a few minutes into the movie. Even stranger is that drummer Rory (Tony Guma) and vocalist Danny (Ward) are unhappy despite the former being married to a former supermodel and the latter engaging in a hot sex scene early on with the kindly girlfriend (Judging Amy's Amy Brenneman) he seems to have a long and stable relationship with... though it makes sense when you know that Guma was the movie's co-writer, and that Ward co-wrote and directed the movie.

The four ex-members of the band meet at Gil's wedding, and ultimately end up grabbing the wedding band's instruments and playing their one hit at the reception when Mitch begs them to help him impress a woman. Despite their obvious rustiness, they manage to impress the guests pretty well. Cate (Hewitt) is one of those guests, and is impressed enough to approach Danny after the song. She turns Line 'em up... so I can shoot them down much easier!out to be a senior executive blah blah blah at Elektragram Viascope International, a giant media company. Explaining that a revival of the '80s is just around the corner, and telling Danny that The Suburbans captured the flavor of the times, she offers to stage a major comeback of sorts for the band - media appearances, concerts, the whole works. Without going any further for the moment, I must admit that this setup is a very promising one. So promising that I could see it successfully going one of three ways. (1) As a straight drama, detailing the many familiar as well as new experiences and struggles the aged but experienced band would face this time around, as well as how these past and present experiences change or changed them as individuals. (2) As a straight comedy, based around the idea of middle-aged losers trying to regain their past glory in a volatile field that promises to put up a number of amusing obstacles along the way. (3) As a satirical comedy, not only poking fun at nostalgia crazes, but at other ripe targets like the music industry.

As it turns out, The Suburbans doesn't follow one of those paths; it instead decides to travel down all three of those paths. The end results of this decision can best be summed up by the fact that Sony put its Tri-Star distribution label on it (which should also tell you how big a theatrical release the movie got.) The Suburbans is a disaster of such proportions that it is quite frankly embarrassing to see everyone from the actors to the director making fools of themselves. That's not to say that the movie is lacking in quality material to be used. In fact, the movie managed to round up some pretty respectable talent and material, but utterly squanders it all. Think about that whole American Bandstand sequence; they obviously took the time to get permission to recreate the show, and they managed to hire Dick Clark himself. Used properly in a straight drama, it could have assisted in giving the movie a touch of realism. It instead tries to be funny, and could have worked this way as well. Dick Clark does have a sense of humor, and has been willing to poke fun at himself during his career, such as when he made a cameo in the Police Squad! TV series that had him using magic youth cream that maybe the makeup artists here used. But the scene refuses to exploit Clark or the whole American Bandstand scenario for that matter, so you have to wonder why they bothered with all that effort instead of simply constructing an ersatz show.

In fact, I think I can say that their bringing in all this promising material actually makes the movie worse than if they had to build things from scratch. Your expectations are instinctively lower when dealing with something completely unfamiliar, but are higher when you are dealing with something that has delivered the goods to you in the past. Take the fact that the owners of the media company happen to be played by Ben and Jerry Stiller. Though they have two scenes together, father and son are unable The only love to be found in the movieto do anything of merit in them. They are forced to speak unbelievably lame babble that hardly makes sense when Ben's character isn't into a non-stop coughing and hiccoughing spree. We've seen elsewhere how funny these men can be, so it's an abomination to see them forced to perform material that leaves them visibly helpless and humiliated. Though the waste doesn't just apply to people who do cameos (which also includes one by MTV's Kurt Loder), but also to the actors who play more of a major role in the movie's going-ons. As Rory's girlfriend, Bridgette Wilson (I Know What You Did Last Summer) brings in a sunny presence, but all her character gets to do is yell at her kids and complain about her ex-husband. This waste even applies to Hewitt; after her character first approaches the band members, she's made to spend most of her remaining time on the sideline making various inane comments.

There is one scene late in the movie where Hewitt's character finally reveals something that she has been keeping secret about her dealings with the band, but once again the movie stubbornly refuses to do anything about it. Looking at it, the scene could have been made to be funny, touching, or even somewhat disturbing. But the revelation is forgotten almost as soon as its introduced, so it doesn't make any kind of impact at all. With Hewitt's character seriously lacking any kind of personality anyway, it would have been pretty difficult to pull something off here. Speaking on the same subject, it doesn't take long into the movie before you start to wonder why there are people who are interested in publicizing and revitalizing these now-faded rock stars - let alone make a movie about these four fellows being publicized and revitalized in the first place. It's not just that their hit single is unremarkable fluff that never would have hit number one even in 1981. We never learn how they met, how they got signed up, what kind of impact they made at the time, or even what ultimately broke the band up. We don't learn much more about them as individuals aside from what I described earlier. For example, though Danny is seen to be enthusiastic about the revival, we never get to see what the others initially think. Surely at least one of them would have some feeling of unease at this prospect, minor or otherwise, and seeing this could add humor or some drama. Yet instead of getting to see what the others think, the movie immediately cuts to all four men at the contract signing meeting.

The Suburbans is a movie very unsure of itself, not just for the many times that it refuses to exploit material that has promise, or for keeping its characters devoid of personality. As I mentioned earlier, the movie constantly and widely changes in tone throughout. Sometimes the movie is sweet-natured, and sometimes there is a sudden jolt of vulgarity (such as the utterly tasteless comment about "lipstick") that would be at Towards the end of the agonizing shoot, a dazed Brenneman needed help standing uphome in a Farrelly brothers movie. One minute the movie is a drama, then all of a sudden some sort of comedy breaks out. The result is a bewildering mishmash that moves around so much that you are unable to embrace it. To make matters worse, neither the drama nor the comedy is particularly well done. The drama marginally comes off best; it's pretty simplistic in nature and depicts things we haven't seen before (no prizes for guessing that Danny's girlfriend initially shows misgivings on the prospect, then subsequently starts feeling neglected), though it's never irritating to watch. A couple of scenes actually come close to totally working, though are spoiled by sudden jolts of labored and unfunny attempts at humor. The humor in the more comic scenes isn't any better, with Mitch's sneaking away from a patient to practice on his guitar a typical example of what the movie considers hilarious.

I will let you know The Suburban's one genuinely funny line, which will then ensure you have no excuse to rent it: "Your happiness means the most to me, which goes to show I've wasted a tremendous amount of money on therapy." Maybe it doesn't read so funny, though it was delivered in a way that made me laugh. The only other bright spot was later in the movie when so starved of humor or anything else resembling entertainment that I laughed when a foul-mouthed little boy got a hold of a live microphone. Though right afterwards I felt angry - angry that I had been made to laugh at something so familiar, and angry of what I had been made to go through to laugh at such an obvious gag. Thinking back on that moment, I shouldn't have wasted effort into reacting so strongly to anything from a movie that's an utter waste itself - of a premise, talent, and ninety minutes. Of course, that summation does bring up the question as to why I took the time to write around two thousand words to review this movie. Because I love you and I don't want you to suffer through this movie, okay? It would be nice if you were to return the favor by giving me the addresses of the former members of Deadeye Dick.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (Download)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Get Crazy, The Fantasticks, Hot Summer

homeindexgenree-mail